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Netanyahu's new plan: Getting rid of Israel's Palestinians

Netanyahu’s proposal to revoke citizenship from tens of thousands of Arab citizens is yet another calculated move meant to absolve Israel of responsibility for the fate of its native population.

By Marzuq Al-Halabi

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on June 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister office in Jerusalem on June 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The idea of territorial or population swaps as part of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians is not new. Many have previously propounded it, whether as part of an honest effort at resolving the conflict, or as a way to whitewash population transfer. A new proposal put forth by Prime Minister Netanyahu would transfer the Arab villages of Wadi Ara — adjacent to the northern West Bank — to the Palestinian Authority, in exchange for annexing the settlements to Israel. A typical Bibi-esque response to weighty political questions.

One can easily dismiss the proposal as an attempt by the prime minister to placate the Israeli public, in light of the mass funeral for the three men from Umm al-Fahm (in the Wadi Ara area) who killed two Border Police officers at Al-Aqsa two weeks ago — an act that, in their eyes may have earned them a ticket to heaven, but left behind a nightmare of violence, confusion, and embarrassment. It is possible that Netanyahu, as opposed to his minister Tzahi Hanegbi, did not want to threaten the Palestinians — even those in Israel — with a third Nakba, and thus decided on the more sophisticated route of territorial swaps, in which Israel will give up on sovereignty in the Wadi Ara area (known as “The Triangle”), including Umm al-Fahm.

Netanyahu’s idea needs to be viewed as part of his search for an outlet for the current tensions, and as part of the public discussions on a final-status arrangement and a range of “creative” ideas that will pave the way out of the current strategic tie-game between Israel and the Palestinians: Jews are unable to make the Palestinians disappear, while the Palestinians cannot return to their lost paradise while ejecting the Zionist crusaders from Palestine. I tend to see it as another Israeli idea whose goal is to overcome this international tie, from the point of view of the demographic reality between the river and the sea.

In light of developments in Israeli politics since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, one can safely establish that the right-wing elites in Israel do not want any further Palestinian participation in Israeli politics. This has become all the more clear since they came into power.

The Right views every act — be it political or legal — that hints at fully recognizing Palestinians’ citizenship or their potentially pivotal role in the political sphere, civic identity, peace, and war, as a call for intervention to change direction toward exclusion.

Palestinian citizens of Israel participate in a Land Day march in the Negev. (Corinna Kern/Flash90)

Palestinian citizens of Israel participate in a Land Day march in the Negev. (Corinna Kern/Flash90)

Many of the right-wing, populist crusades against Israel’s Supreme Court came on the heels of rulings in favor of Arab citizens. Even the idea of holding a referendum on a potential Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories without asking Arabs, or that will be decided by a relative majority, is intended to neutralize the political power of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. The same goes for the changes that have been made in the Basic Law regarding the Knesset, over who is eligible to be elected to the parliament, mostly target Palestinian candidates or slates.

The banning of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in 2015 was another step in that direction. The incitement and hate-mongering against the Palestinian public in Israel serve the same purpose, as do the the proposed laws that seek to rescind the status of Arabic as an official language. All these join a long list of laws and amendments over the last several years that seeks to deepen the chasm between Palestinian citizens and the state.

It’s important to mention Israel’s land policies that are fed by a Zionist worldview of redeeming the land through taking control of the maximum amount of land with the minimum amount of Palestinians. In fact, the withdrawal of a democratic Israeli identity and the rise of an aggressive, Jewish, right wing took place vis-a-vis Palestinians in Israel, all while turning them into an internal enemy. This is how the new Jewish identity, in its current incarnation, is being built.

This concept forces us to deal with the demographic question, which betrays the motivation behind the actions of the right-wing elite. At the end of the day, the elites are not driven by a desire for a historic deal, God forbid, with the Palestinian people, which lost its homeland in a conflict with the Zionist enterprise, and not even an arrangement that will lower tensions and prevent, God forbid, more victims. The elite are busy with the question of how to get rid of those same wild, rioting, terrorist natives. From this point, public discussion becomes a spectrum that ranges from separate roads for Jewish settlers to full-on transfer, either through curfews or through population and territory swaps.

All these practices have taken place between the river and the sea since the late 1940s. This is the inevitable result of refraining from dividing the land between its two peoples. As long as there are no solutions on the horizon, he who is in control will only try to improve his position and his rule. Checkpoints and curfews are apparently not enough, as we have seen over the past two weeks in East Jerusalem.

I believe that these acts of oppression are not a result of the reality on the ground, but rather of the mind of the lords of the land.

Border Police officers throw stun grenades at Palestinians at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, Jerusalem, July 27, 2017. (Activestills.org)

Border Police officers throw stun grenades at Palestinians at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, Jerusalem, July 27, 2017. (Activestills.org)

The practical significance of Netanyahu’s plan is not the transferring of territory to a Palestinian state, but rather absolving Israel of responsibility for the rights of the people living here. In other words, abandoning the people there just as the Palestinian people in Gaza were abandoned to their torturers. We must admit that Netanyahu’s proposal is cunning, and now that it is out in the open, it can be deployed in the future. Regardless of whether the plan is ever implemented, Netanyahu and his followers will have the ability to exploit this plan to the very end, using it as a constant threat, especially when we consider how journalists and the media dance to Netanyahu’s tune whenever it has to do with Palestinians.

Either way, I am not impressed by Netanyahu’s proposal, and view it as another calculated step in the Right’s attempt to weaken and cancel the political status of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The prime minister wants to abandon the Palestinians to a territorial and governmental emptiness — somewhere between military occupation and a Palestinian entity bereft of any ability to govern. This is how the apartheid regime established designated areas for natives, or rather isolated, blood-soaked entities. The colonialist structure always led to criminal ideas that allowed the regime to absolve itself of responsibility for the fate of the natives.

Marzuq Al-Halabi is a jurist, journalist, author. He writes regularly for Al-Hayat. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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